Welcome to the first Secret Area post of 2019. Here’s something that was several months in the making. This was mostly due to procrastination. Naturally, I’m writing about a game I finished last year, two days short of a year after I had beaten it. And it’s a callback to a post I made last June. Let’s do this.
Last year, I had written a somewhat scathing review of the 2010 Medal of Honor reboot, which took the legacy of a long-standing WWII FPS franchise and basically ruined it by being a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare copycat. You can check that post out here. At the end of that post, I had hinted towards a game that I had said was just as close to the original Medal of Honor games.
Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it is a World War II FPS, and surprisingly a decent one at that.
Enemy Front was a shooter released in 2014 for various platforms, including PC. Released by CI Games, it was a fairly unknown budget shooter in an era where those kind of shooters were slowly disappearing due to the drought of retail games as well as the prevalence of Steam making it a newer (and cheaper!) haven for the cheap schlock of the past.
I had heard of it thanks to a certain YouTube personality. Ahoy – later a maker of wonderful flashy documentaries about Doom, Half-Life, the Amiga, and many others – had done a video chronicling the arsenal of Enemy Front. He had done similar videos before for Call of Duty and other franchises, and would later be revised to an all-purpose format with his Iconic Arms series of videos. I’m still waiting for the new season of Iconic Arms, just to see what games he uses as an example for the weapon he’s talking about.
Though, it wasn’t just a British YouTube personality talking about a budget polish-developed FPS’s weaponry that got me to snag Enemy Front. It was also dirt cheap on a Steam sale. All it takes is something to be under $5 and you’ve caught my interest almost immediately.
Broadcasting your war diaries doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
Enough preamble. Let’s get to the meat and actually talk about Enemy Front proper. You play as American journalist Robert Hawkins as he reports the stories of a resistance front all around Europe. Later joining with resistance fighters, Hawkins must stop the Nazi menace in various locales around Europe, including during the Warsaw Uprising. A fair share of the game takes place around that Polish conflict. It’s fitting, considering developer/publisher CI Games is based in Warsaw, Poland.
Human shields are a good way to be threatening. Until they realize you just grabbed some expendable low-ranking goon.
Hey folks. Sorry that my posting is still somewhat erratic at the moment. Things have been going on in my life, and for a good while I didn’t have anything interesting to write about. I’ve amassed so many junk items over the years that they’re all strewn about in my room, hoping one day they’ll be played and/or written about.
So instead of struggling to think about something, I’m gonna do some posts about some of the games I’ve beaten throughout 2018. Surprisingly it is a small list, as I had fallen into the trap of playing the same quick pick up and play games instead: Killing Floor 2, Payday 2, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and more recently, Quake Champions.
Despite having a massive backlog, I still did finish a few games throughout the year. This was originally gonna be a post with two reviews, but this particular review got so lengthy that I had to split it up.
So let’s talk about a failed reboot of an iconic franchise, shall we?
Mr. DudeMcLargebeard getting ready to shoot the evil people.
(Warning: Spoilers for the story of Medal of Honor 2010 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 lie within.)
Back around 2014, I had written (but oddly didn’t publish) a thing about Medal of Honor: Airborne, which I had replayed because a friend was streaming the game. It’s one of his personal favorites, and while I liked some elements of it like being able to drop anywhere on the in-game map, or even the creative weapon upgrade system, it just felt like a tired shooter going through the motions, and was going beyond the more historical angle of Medal of Honor, even having Nazi super soldiers wielding MG42s like it was nothing.
At the end I had written something to the effect “It’s not as amazing as Frontline or Allied Assault, but it’s probably better than Medal of Honor: Warfighter.” At the time, I hadn’t played the most recent Medal of Honor games, and 2018 felt like the time to tackle Medal of Honor 2010 – as I’m gonna call it from here on in, to distinguish it from the 1999 original – and I felt disappointed all the way through.
I finished this back in January, as the very first game I beat in 2018. This was not a good start.
Realizing World War II games were on their way out after a near ten-year period of them constantly coming out, EA was in a bind. Medal of Honor was considered this prestigious franchise, and they didn’t know where to take it. Their solution was to see what their competition already did three years prior and follow suit: Go modern, and see if it stuck.
The problem was that this came out right after the extremely successful Modern Warfare 2, and was out the same year as Call of Duty: Black Ops – probably in my top three favorite Call of Duty games for various reasons – so already EA was climbing a very, very steep hill. With Medal of Honor 2010, EA didn’t get to the top, but instead slipped and started rolling down the hill, giving themselves bruises and broken bones along the way.
The internet is a fascinating thing. Sometimes you find things because of the internet. In my case, I stumbled upon this game thanks to the internet.
Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam: The Game is a game based on a novel by Christopher Brookmyre (natch), a noted British author, whom sadly I’m not aware of since I’m a “bloody yank.” (I live in the United States.) I was made aware of this game thanks to Achievement Hunter-turned-Twitch-streamer Ray, aka “BrownMan” on Twitch. He was doing a blind run of this on Xbox One, and it looked like a game I’d give a try just on the idea.
This is also the third (and so far, final) game I requested myself, just to build a queue of games to play for BST. Ultimate Doom needed no introduction, Turok was something I wanted to try to see if nostalgia held up. Bedlam, on the other hand was clearly the offshoot of wanting to play something fairly unknown as it were. It’s also the most recent game I’ve played so far, coming out in 2015. (The Turok remastercame out that year as well, but the original game came out twenty years prior so that doesn’t really count.)
Ahh, the days when games looked sharper before ugly OpenGL texture filtering…
The story involves Heather Quinn, as she signs up for some new virtual reality machine to simulate video games. Little did she know, she was sucked into the world of video games instead. With the help of various people she meets in the game worlds, she must go through the worlds of various video games and find her way out.
When I started playing, I was thrusted into a game world not unlike Quake II. Though it goes by a generic name – Starfire – it clearly has the style and look of that mid-’90s era of PC gaming. This is what Bedlam does throughout. Through my travels as Quinn, I went through a WWII FPS world, a futuristic open arena like Halo or PlanetSide, a medieval area similar to games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, even clones of Pac-Man and other old-school arcade games.
Yet, oddly, the game also name drops notable locations like Black Mesa (from Half-Life), and even mentions Call of Duty, despite all the games depicted in-game being fictional. Presumably it’s okay to reference them without having to pay legal fees; but this might all be referenced in the book the game’s based on, I haven’t read it to be sure.
I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.
I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed…
They don’t make game covers like these anymore…
Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and were ignoring Doom for some reason, this was one of the few ways to get more digital nazi killing. That, along the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, gave you seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.
Both episodes have similar stories: Hitler recovered the Spear from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime and recover the Spear twice more before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but back in those days FPS games were never known for having great stories.
Well, I hope you like blue, because there’s a lot of it here.
So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.
I am not a fan of Kiss. I only know a few of their songs, mostly because they appeared in Rock Band. I watched that Behind the Music episode they did once, at least. Besides that, all I know about them is they want to Rock and Roll All Nite and have a wonderful time, they made a bizarre ’70s live-action special, and then there was that period in the ’80s where they took off the makeup and were like every other hair metal band of the era. They have a couple good songs, at least.
Naturally, with how popular Kiss was, along with Gene Simmons’ shrewd business tactics, there has to be a video game about them. Enter Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child.
This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?
Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child is a video game adaption of the Psycho Circus comic book series by Image Comics and Todd MacFarlane Productions. The comic involved the band members becoming supernatural beings and saving the universe as part of the Four-Who-Are-One (I wish I was making that up). The video game borrows elements from the comic, but has a wholly different story.
Instead of playing as the band members, you play as members of a Kiss tribute band, who get teleported to a special world ran by this gypsy named Madame Raven. She tells you about this big bad called “The Nightmare Child,” and your band are the chosen ones to stop them. Separated by the Hall of Mirrors, each band member goes through each world as they grab each of the six pieces that form the respective Elder.
I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!
After writing that paragraph, most of which I consulted the manual to understand this bizarre-ass story, I can say with authority that this story is so god damn ridiculous that it’s not worth knowing. Then again, with this being co-opted by a band known for wearing silly outfits and the guy who created freakin’ Spawn, I’m not expecting Half-Life levels of storytelling here.
Here’s a silly little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.
This game was developed by Third Law Interactive, founded by one of the original members of the Daikatana development team, so already we’re off to a shaky start. They didn’t do a whole lot of notable stuff, my brief search found out they worked on an Aliens vs. Predator 2 expansion and added stuff to the Game of the Year edition of No One Lives Forever. So we’re looking at a small studio with not much notability, which is worrying.
One thing I’ve been trying to do this year is to tackle my long, burgeoning backlog. I’m limiting this to mostly current generation stuff like the 360, PS3, PC and Wii. But only because I wasn’t really up to digging out my Xbox to play Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and or play through the gauntlet that is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. If I tried to finish everything I owned, I’d be left with a task that would be impossible to finish in my lifetime.
I’ve been making a slight dent at that backlog in recent months, tackling Borderlands and all its DLC, Saints Row: The Third (which is good timing considering Saints Row IV hits later this year), F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Lots of shootybangs, basically.
BADASS SPACE MARINE COVER
So it makes sense my most recent completion was this little-known budget FPS called Chaser. A first-person shooter that was developed by Slovakian developer Cauldron and published by JoWood Productions in 2004. I had heard of the game in the past thanks to owning a PC Gamer demo disc that had a demo of the game’s multiplayer. While the demo wasn’t amazing by any stretch, it did seem like an interesting shooter that I might play someday.
Fast forward to 2012, when I see the game on a Steam daily deal for $2.50, which got reduced even further to $1.24. I have a soft spot for bargains, and when a game hits that “$2 or less” threshold, it’s an instant impulse purchase. Then it sat on my Steam backlog until very recently, when I had decided to try it shortly after beating Redneck Rampage, wanting an “old-school” FPS fix of a different kind.
Douglas Quaid John Chaser in an unusual predicament.
You play as John Chaser, an amnesiac stuck on a spaceship being hunted down, with no memories of what happened prior. You eventually make it to Earth and become acquaintances with members of “The Family,” as you try to do missions to find out who you are and what happened. Eventually you find the truth, befriend a few people along the way, and find out you were doing a mission on Mars. So you get your ass to Mars, go to the Hilton and flash the Brubaker ID at the desk.
Obligatory sewer level screenshot.
Okay, I know a Total Recall reference sounds dumb here, but Cauldron clearly was looking at the Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic for inspiration: From the amnesiac main character, to befriending people who would later be enemies, being chased through a spaceport, even having to go through murky Mars caves to find the truth. This is the closest we’ll get to a “Total Recall: The Video Game” that isn’t that terrible NES game from many years ago.
Let’s be honest here, shooting a bunch of dudes is better than punching similar-looking monsters and dodging glory holes.
The game is not perfect, though. Being made by a game studio where English is not their primary language, there’s that weird case of “eurojank” to Chaser‘s design. Voice acting is a very mixed bag, leading to awkward line deliveries and unusual word usage. Subtitles don’t always match what’s spoken. Jumping physics seemed a bit off, where I was more likely to miss a platform than land on it. There are many points where it wasn’t clear where I needed to go next, which lead me to walking around a lot and frequently backtracking, among other problems that are common to unpolished shooters.
Cauldron’s CloakNT Engine makes for large, expansive levels. Impressive for a game released in 2004, however it makes later stages like the last few levels drag on considerably.
Chaser is not just a rough unpolished game, it’s also very difficult. On Normal difficulty, it didn’t take much for the bad guys to whittle my full health and armor down to zero pretty quick. Enemies occasionally drop medkits and armor, but I ended up losing that as quickly as I got it. This even applies to fall damage — later stages have you dropping down on pipes, taking off small bits of your health as you descend, making it pretty easy to miss a jump and easily crater, forcing you to quick save repeatedly.
This is cruel irony.
Lately I’ve been trying to avoid playing games on harder difficulties, but Chaser was incredibly difficult to play on Normal, leaving me to go through the remaining 2/3s of the game on Easy just to get through it. Even on Easy difficulty, some of the later stages still kicked my ass, with enemies having grenade launchers that one shot me even with near-full health and armor. The quick save key became my best friend.
Even the game’s ending is especially bleak. I won’t spoil it, but I was honestly expecting a much different outcome, and playing a shooter with a downer ending, especially the long journey it took me to get there, is disappointing. I would preferred a choice, like in Singularity, another game I played fairly recently.
That isn’t to say this game is bad per se, it’s just difficult because it was clearly made in a different mindset than most first-person shooters today. Chaser hearkens back to the late ’90s-early 2000s era of first-person shooter design: reflexes, speed, exploration, backtracking, rationing items, and quick saving often to make progress. The average player today would likely have a very difficult time playing through Chaser if they’re used to the Call of Duty style of game play.
Despite that challenge, I enjoyed the varied level design — from space stations, to cities, to the Russian tundra, even the redness of Mars looked pretty neat. The soundtrack was good, reminding of MOD tracker music that was popular in Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex. There’s a bit of charm to Chaser that I had a soft spot for, despite it’s ridiculous length and punishing difficulty.
It’s on Steam at an affordable price of $5, though it does go on sale occasionally. It’s worth checking out if you want some early 2000s eurojank in your life. Just remember that it’s gonna kick your ass, but stick with it. Despite that eurojank, it’s not a bad shooter. I’ve played worse shooters out there. Much worse.
Some screenshots taken from the Steam store page and Mobygames.
(Update 8/20/2019: Updated the post with a few changes here and there.)